A report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee says the government’s new lobbying bill has "significant defects" and should be withdrawn.
The select committee’s report, published today, recommends that the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill should be withdrawn and says a new bill should be produced within six months after scrutiny of the existing bill by a special committee.
The bill contains proposals to make it a criminal offence to spend more than £390,000 on campaigns that affect European, national and local elections and widens the range of activities that are regulated, if they are carried out for "election purposes".
Charities and voluntary sector bodies have criticised the bill because they say it might make it difficult for voluntary sector organisations to campaign on issues that could be considered political. The government has rejected the accusation.
The committee’s report criticises the government for a lack of consultation on the bill before it was published, which was one day before the House of Commons started its summer recess.
"There has been inadequate interaction between government and parliament to ensure that this bill is fit for purpose," it says.
"The bill must not become law in its present form. It would benefit hugely from a proper process of consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny, both of which have been lacking so far. It has significant defects as it is currently drafted."
The report makes several recommendations for changes to the bill if it is not withdrawn.
It says the definition of the types of activities that would be regulated under the bill as "for electoral purposes" would cause confusion and should be more clearly defined.
The committee also recommends that the proposed campaign spending thresholds, at which organisations would have to register with the Electoral Commission, should not be lowered.
"Many charities and other organisations contacted us to express concern about the combined effects of new lower thresholds for registration, new lower limits for expenditure and a wider, vague definition of what will count as controlled expenditure," the report says.
Graham Allen, chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, said the bill had been rushed through the House of Commons and was a lesson in how not to produce legislation.
"We can all agree on the need for transparency about lobbying and effective regulation of third-party spending," he said. "But this bill contains serious flaws.
"The government must withdraw the bill and allow a committee of the house to carry out proper scrutiny, with the aim of producing a better bill for reintroduction within six months."
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Andrew Lansley, leader of the house, said the bill would not prevent charities from campaigning.
"The bill does not seek to regulate charities that simply engage with the policy of a political party," he said.
Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, has written to Allen welcoming the committee’s report and expressing its desire to assist the committee in the future.
Joe Irvin, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, said he agreed with the committee’s call for temporary withdrawal of the bill.
He said that his organisation had written to the committee to say that smaller charities should not be included on any register of lobbyists.
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